This report is part of a series on the environment produced by Bulatlat.com with the Asia-Pacific Forum on Women, Law and Development (APWLD) Media Fellowship. The series aims to report on linkages between gender, ecological conflicts and climate change.
By MARYA SALAMAT
BULAKAN, Bulacan – In the aftermath of Typhoon Ompong (International name Supertyphoon Mangkhut) that lashed Luzon last month, the fishing communities in Taliptip, Bulakan, Bulacan, reported a more severe impact of flooding. They are used to flooding every typhoon. They explained that living on the waters of the Manila Bay, they are used to flooding as more water from high tide pass through the narrow strip of land that comprises their sitios (sub-villages). But it passes quickly and recedes soon, they say.
After the cutting of some 643 mangroves last August, residents of Sitio Capol told Bulatlat the flood was higher by at least a foot or two than they are used to, and it stayed longer. Residents of Sitio Kinse, meanwhile, one of the relatively more picturesque as they have defended their mangroves from the cutters, were affected by flooding, too.
Despite the warning that Ompong was a super-typhoon, the residents of Sitio Kinse had not been evacuated because they are more isolated than the other sitios. The women residents noted that unlike in past typhoons of comparable strength, the flood water hit them differently. The surge was far stronger this time that it carried away the sand at the top of the soil. When the flood receded, the residents were left with sticky and slippery mud.
In the neighboring coastal town of Obando, the menfolk have to rebuild their elevated “walkway” of bamboos tied together.
It was last August when the old-growth mangroves in Sitio Capol, Sitio Bunotan and Sitio Teryahan, all in Taliptip, Bulakan, Bulacan, were cut down by men operating in groups, using chainsaws and handsaws. Published accounts estimated the number of cut mangroves to 600-plus. The DENR confirmed it had no permit. The area is a timberland and a forest reserve.
When asked about the cut-down mangroves, the locals would reply in a pained “napakadami po, sobrang dami po talaga ang pinutol,” (so very many trees, truly many trees were cut down). They couldn’t give a count, but an old fisherman hazarded a guess. “I’d say it’s probably in the region of 1,000, maybe more if you count also the saplings. Maybe the 600-plus cut trees they counted were only the really big, really old trees.”
He wished he had a smartphone with him on his banca. “I could have taken photos of the cutting of the mangroves – I could have taken photos of the mangroves before they were cut.”
He talked of the cut-down trees as if a loved one has died. “Those mangroves, I’ve seen them since I was young. Some of them had probably been there even before I was born, probably even before my parents.” He couldn’t comprehend why the hardiest, the longest and the oldest mangroves were brought down.
“In those trees we had sought shelter when the winds were too strong for our banca,” he continued. After a long pause, he remembered the birds, too. It was too eerie, the silence and the darkness, he noted in the first few days when the before-and-after of the mangrove cutting was too fresh and too raw for his senses.
“Before, when we passed by those mangroves, there were the constant hum, sound of birds and sound of beating wings. There were times there were too many of those birds that even in the nighttime, the place would look bathed in a light you would think it’s early morning… But it’s just the white of their feathers.”
He warned of greater danger if more were to be cut, recalling how in past typhoons, people were later rescued among the mangroves.
Until now, much like the cases of extra-judicial killings, the culprit behind the cutting down of the old mangroves has yet to be known and held accountable. In the communities, it is like an open secret who gave the go-signal. Most would say it’s connected to the SMC aerotropolis and land project. But there is fear, as Pamalakaya leader Salvador France told the DENR in a dialogue on October 16.
France urged the DENR to investigate, and not just to rely on the data the local fisherfolk could give them. He understood the fear because, as he said, Filipino fisherfolk are being killed in other parts of the country for standing up against big businesses seeking to drive them away from the waters. He reiterated that it is the mandate of the DENR to protect the environment. Cutting down mangroves when it’s proven to be important against storm surges, floods, and against hunger, clearly falls under that mandate to protect the environment, France said.